Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Time for Unity and Solidarity

Note: This article was published by Minivan News on February 12, 2006. With the defection of Ibrahim Shareef (Ma Vota) to DRP, and the still unresolved differences within the ranks of MDP, some of the issues I had raised still hold relevance.

I could not hold back the tears that gathered in my eyes, as I watched the concluding session of the MDP Congress. Standing there in Dharubaaruge, in a hall that was open to the public, watching the Congress from a screen, I could not understand why I had such a soft spot for MDP. As a person who takes pride in being critical of the inherent problems within MDP, I could not believe myself. Later, I found out that many people were moved to tears while they watched the last session of the Congress.

The speech of MDP Chairperson Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), the speech of MDP President Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) and the calls to free Anni by delegates were indeed emotional moments. There were tears of joy because we all felt that the final session of the Congress was a watershed for MDP and for the struggle to bring democracy to the Maldives. Despite being under house arrest Anni was allowed to join the Congress; the government finally allowed the Congress to take place in Dharubaaruge after refusing it for weeks; the atmosphere was victorious and euphoric.

It was a remarkable achievement, and Anni's presence there was just a symbol of the struggle the leaders of the movement have gone through. It was also the long and winding road ahead; the continued detention of political prisoners; and the realization that there were several others in self-exile unable to join the loved ones in Maldives, that made this small step a giant leap.

Indeed, it is a long and difficult road ahead. If one has any illusions that the brutal regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is giving in to demands of the Maldivian people, then it is a wrong perception. Gayoom is spinning a web of deceit and suffocating the Maldivian people with a chokehold of insincerity. It is time that MDP challenge this brutal regime with all weapons in its arsenal and bring down the oppressors.

That is why the members and supporters of MDP show solidarity and unity at this crucial stage of the struggle.

Cracks and divisions appeared within MDP in the build-up to the Congress held in December 2005. The Congress itself was not the perfect example of democracy. As the existing structure allowed presidents of individual cells to elect the leader of the party, it led to a fierce battle to win over the cell leaders. The alliances some cell leaders formed were not in line with the wishes of members of the cells. There were irregularities and the leadership contest was extremely competitive and to some extent ugly.

The wounds of the election did not heal as soon as some people expected it. The cracks widened. While the candidates themselves did not show any visible disappointment over defeats, there were divisions among various groups of people who lobbied for different candidates.

There are rumours that MDP Chairperson Anni sided with Ibra at the last moment and lobbied for Ibra. Similarly there are accusations that the party's Co-founder Mohamed Latheef was in favour of Dr Mohamed Waheed. Both Anni and Latheef insisted prior to the election that they remained neutral in the race to elect a leader for MDP.

Several activists from Addu were promoting Dr Munavvar, who they insisted would be attentive to their grievances and pain, if he were elected the leader of MDP. After years of neglect from Gayoom, the people of Addu needed a leader who understood their plight, Addu people were told. The bitter defeat of Munavvar in the election was seen by some activists from Addu as a grand conspiracy, a masterplan by the Male' elite who did not want a person from Addu winning the leadership of MDP and quite possibly the leadership of Maldives in the future.

It is with these accusations, rumours, grievances and resentment that the Congress of MDP ended. Ibra found himself increasingly accused of incompetence and his policies drew criticism from various circles of MDP. Some of the criticisms against Ibra did not have much substance and it could be attributed to the state of denial some people remained after a bitter election defeat.

When MDP decided to organize demonstrations to protest against the Gayoom regime, rumours surfaced again that Ibra was against demonstrations. There was also talk in town that Anni was favouring protests and that there were some divisions between Anni and Ibra. When MDP's demonstration was officially brought to an end at 6.00 pm on 24th January, fingers were once again pointed at Ibra. However, majority of MDP members and supporters agreed that it was a good idea to stop the demonstration before the regime could incite the violence it so conveniently foretold on state television.

Divisions between Ibra and Anni are not just mere rumours anymore. After Ibra's recent threat to resign, the news has been reported by the media sympathetic to MDP. The fallout between Anni and the person whom some people accuse Anni of collaborating during the leadership election has been a shock to a number of MDP members and supporters.

While I agree with most of what Ahmed Naseer has expressed in a recent article in Minivan News concerning the current crisis, I totally disagree with the following remark: "If Ibra is unable to see eye to eye with his Shadow Cabinet members on a frequent basis, then he must gracefully exit and make space for other potential leaders so that the ground gained so far is not lost."

First of all the Shadow Cabinet of MDP is not elected by the members of MDP. It is formed by the President of MDP. Even though the current procedures for electing the President are not ideal, the President has more legitimacy than the Shadow Cabinet. If Ibra faces frequent fallouts with his cabinet members, he can remove those members and appoint new ones.

The whole idea of a Shadow Cabinet is still a bit puzzling to me. I know that it has stemmed from the aspirations of influential leaders within MDP who personally favour the Westminster system – leaders such as Anni and Ibra. However, from what we hear, MDP is favouring the Presidential system to be in place after the constitution is revised. Shadow Cabinet member Mariya Ahmed Didi is the only person who convincingly told a single reason why a Shadow Cabinet has to be there. In a General Meeting of MDP, she explained that members of the Shadow Cabinet will act like shadows to their counterparts in the government's cabinet, watching and monitoring their actions and performance.

Relying so much on a Shadow Cabinet, which is a feature of Westminster system, while MDP favours a Presidential system, is characteristic of the confusion that seems to be norm of MDP.

A number of MDP members and supporters feel that the whole reform process is in a dangerous deadlock. The government is refusing to release the political prisoners; the amendment of constitution at People's Majlis is moving painfully slowly. Increasing numbers of people are getting fed up with the General Meetings held by MDP. It is a bit boring to listen to the same rhetoric repeated all over again. It is simply not enough to call for Gayoom's resignation or boast that MDP will be in power soon, or very soon, or within a few months.

Several people believe that if MDP does not bring something new to the political scene, and inject fresh ideas, Gayoom will start gaining ground. Gayoom's regime has already done a rebranding exercise and their new born baby, the 'New Maldives', is being marketed both within and outside Maldives with a great fervour. Hardly a week goes by without a visit from the wonder boys of New Maldives, the self-proclaimed young geniuses of Gayoom’s cabinet, to the atolls of Maldives to spread their message. Surely there are areas of Maldives which are not strongholds of MDP. What is MDP doing to secure support from such areas?

These are prime concerns of MDP members and well-wishers. If Ibra, who has been elected with high hopes, cannot deliver, if he cannot provide the people some plans or vision, then he should "gracefully exit". If Ibra is unwilling to follow the sentiments of MDP members and if he intends to follow his own plans for MDP, then he may as well resign. If he is willing to follow the sentiments of MDP members and work with team spirit, then he should continue. He should not bother about his Shadow Cabinet members.

It will not be easy to hold another Congress and have another leadership election soon in the even that Ibra resigns. Another election will also lead to a widening of the divisions within MDP. However, if another election becomes necessary, let’s hope that it will be more democratic than the first one.

Anni deserves praise for his relentless efforts to make MDP more democratic. He was in Dhoonidhoo when the preparations for MDP's leadership election started. Soon after he was transferred to house arrest, he expressed his concerns over the way the election would be held. He urged cell leaders to listen to the views of members of cells before they voted. Anni admitted that there were faults with the MDP constitution which was drafted rather hastily. Promoting internal democracy within MDP should not be a task left only to Anni. The National Council must take initiative to reform MDP's constitution speedily if they want to avoid more confrontations within the party and more grievances of members.

It is very difficult for people of different ideologies to work together. A split within MDP is inevitable given the differing ambitions, intentions and plans of the people involved. If power is what attracts some of them, if they have plans to form a party in the future, they may as well do so now. However, the only point that is holding them back is they realize that whoever splits from the party now will not be able to gain support easily at the moment. Sadly MDP is like train station where passengers do not have a common destination but are waiting in transit.

My belief is that a split leading to exit of some people, or even formation of new political parties, from the current elite of MDP will be healthy to MDP rather than working with concealed resentment and pretension. However, a number of people who see MDP's task limited only to toppling Gayoom will disagree.

The defection of Qasim Ibrahim to DRP was a healthy turn of events as it exposed the facade behind which he stood. It naturally shocked the people who saw him not only as a philanthropist and tycoon but as their saviour and possibly leader. However, for people with doubts about him, it proved that their concerns were valid. The whole affair could be said to have cleansed MDP considerably.

Those who still opt to be onboard should work with a set of common goals. Or else they should jump ship.

It is time to reflect. It is time to go back to the days following September 2003, when the shock over what happened in that fateful month was still fresh in minds, when a group of dissidents left their homes and loved ones and went into self exile. It is time to bring back the mood, the resolve, the goals and objectives felt and perceived in a series of meetings in hotel lobbies in Colombo. It is time to go back to those meetings held in cafes of Male' when the parliament so conveniently rejected the request by 42 people to form a political party.

We have come a long way, but it is still a long road ahead. And may be some things have changed in your heads, but nothing has changed in reality.

1 comment:

Maldiveshealth said...

I think MDP has done or build us a platform for reform. It is really up to us now to rise from the ashes.